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Victory Fund endorses Lauren Baer, David Richardson in CD 18, 27

Democrats Lauren Baer and David Richardson have received endorsements from the Victory Fund gay rights advocacy group in their quests to be elected to Congress in Florida’s  18th and 27th Congressional Districts.

Baer and Richardson are both openly gay, marking the second consecutive congressional election cycle in which Floridians have been presented with two opportunities to elect the state’s first openly-gay member of Congress. As in the 2016 campaign, both face tough Democratic primary challenges first. Last year Bob Poe and Valleri Crabtree both lost in their primaries, in Florida’s 10th and 9th Congressional Districts.

Baer, of Palm Beach Gardens, aims to re-flip the seat won last year by Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast in CD 18. She is a foreign policy expert who previously served in the Obama Administration as an official at the State Department. She faces labor lawyer Pam Keith in the quest for the 2018 Democratic primary nomination.

Richardson, of Miami Beach, is in the race to succeed outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a retiring Republican who comfortably held CD 27 for decades, though the district now has more Democratic voters. He is  the first-elected openly gay state legislator in the history of Florida. He is in a crowded 2018 primary battle with Matt Haggman, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Michael Hepburn, and Mark Anthony Person.

Baer and Richardson are two of five congressional candidates nationally to earn the Victory Funds’ support in this first round of early endorsements. The organization backs its endorsed candidates with cash and in-kind campaign support.

Victory Fund President Aisha Moodie-Mills praised Baer’s record of public service and her commitment to Victory Fund’s principles and goals, stating, in a press release issued by Baer’s campaign, “Lauren’s dedication to the values we share as Americans, first with the State Department and then at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, speaks volumes about the kind of representative we know she’ll be when she wins on Election Day. Chief among those values are acceptance and inclusion, two ideals especially important to us here at Victory Fund. We’re excited about Lauren’s candidacy and the opportunities we will have to collaborate with her campaign over the course of the next year – and beyond!”

Another press release, issued by Richardson’s campaign, cited the Victory Fund for praising Richardson’s efforts in the Florida Legislature to to remove a forty-year-old ban on gay adoption from Florida statute; secure Florida’s first-ever budget appropriation specifically earmarked to benefit the LGBT community; lead the effort to have administrative rules adopted to protect LGBT youth in the state’s foster care and Guardian ad Litem programs; pass the first ever pro-LGBT policy bill out of a legislative committee; push the state to permit the names of same-sex parents on the birth certificates of their children; and dispose of discriminatory “bathroom bills” similar to the legislation which made national headlines last year in North Carolina.

The Victory Fund has previously endorsed Richardson in his Florida House races.

“Victory Fund is excited to throw the full weight of our national grassroots network behind David’s candidacy,” Moodie-Mills stated in the release. “He has been a trailblazer on issues pertaining to LGBTQ equality in Tallahassee and now we have the chance to send him to Washington, DC. We’ll be doing everything in our power to ensure he has the resources to succeed.”

 

David Santiago leads all Central Florida House candidates in October fundraising

Republican State Rep. David Santiago led all Central Florida candidates for the Florida House of Representatives in October fundraising drawing in $21,000 for his re-election bid in Florida’s House District 27 in Volusia County.

Santiago, of Deltona was one of five candidates region-wide who were able to attract at least $10,000, along with two other Republican incumbents, state Reps. Randy Fine of Palm Bay, and Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud; Republican hopeful Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island; and Democratic hopeful Anna Eskamani of Orlando.

The trio of Republican incumbents with five-figure October hauls got virtually all of their campaign donations in October from political action committees, lobbyists, and corporations, almost all of it coming in $500 or $1,000 checks, a common occurrence across all incumbents’ campaign finance reports for October.

Santiago raised all $21,000 of his October bounty from PACs, corporations, or lobbyists. Fine, who is unopposed, raised $20,500 in the month for his re-election bid in House District 53 in Brevard County, all of it in checks of $500 or $1,000 from PACs, lobbyists or corporations. La Rosa, $13,515 in his re-election quest for House District 42 in Osceola County, including $515 that came from individuals.

By contrast, Eskamani raised $16.892 through 221 donations from individuals. Sirois also raised much of his October revenue of $10,130 from individuals, though his 36 contributions included some from a couple of local car dealerships, a gun store, and a gambling interest.

Eskamani’s quest to succeed Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park continues to be the region’s hottest race. She now has raised $126,267, and spent about $25,000 of that. Her opponent Republican Stockton Reeves, a Winter Park businessman, reported raising $1,300 in the month. Including a $90,000 loan he made to open his campaign, Reeve’s campaign has about $93,000 in cash, not far behind Eskamani’s war chest total.

In HD 27, Santiago’s opponent, Democrat Tyran Basil of Deltona, reported raising $125 in October, giving him about $1,591 in total funds raised, and about $650 in the bank.

In House District 28, for a Seminole County seat being vacated by Republican incumbent state Rep. Jason Brodeur, Republican David Smith of Winter Springs continues to have the most dominant position in fundraising. He reported raising just $1,406 in October, but finished the month with about $113,000 in the bank. Fellow Republican Chris Anderson of Lake Mary reported raising no money in October, and finished with about $7,700 in the bank. Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry raised just $120, and his campaign fund finished the month broke.

In House District 29, Republican incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood reported raising $8,000 in October, all through PACs, corporations, and lobbyists, giving him about $37,500 in the bank. October reports have not yet been posted for his Democratic opponent, Patrick Brandt of Longwood. Brandt started October with about $100 in the bank.

In House District 30, Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, who is unopposed, picked up $9,000 in October, all of it from PACs, corporations, and lobbyists. He finished the month with about $53,500 in the bank.

In House District 31, Republican incumbent state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora reported raising $500 in October, giving her about $15,700 in the bank. October reports have not yet been posted for her Democratic opponent Debra Kaplan of Eustis, who had finished September with about $1,700 in the bank.

In HD 42, La Rosa has now raised $69,432 and spent $30,018, giving him $39,416 in the bank. October reports have not yet been filed on his opponent Barbara Cady of Kissimmee, who had finished September with about $3,500 in cash.

In House District 43, Democratic incumbent state Rep. John Cortes of Kissimmee, who is unopposed, raised $2,500, all from unions and corporations, giving him $19,000 in-hand.

In House District 44, newly-sworn-in Republican incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden reported raising $6,200 in his first two weeks of a re-election campaign, which included $5,000 from various Walt Disney Co. companies. Democratic challenger Dawn Antonis‘s October reports were not yet posted Monday morning. She had finished September with $1,355. Democratic challenger Matt Matin just entered the race, and reported no financial activity yet.

In House District 45, Democratic incumbent state Rep. Kamia Brown of Ocoee, who is unopposed, reported raising $2,500 all from PACs and corporations, giving her $10,350. In neighboring House District 46, reports had not yet been posted for Democratic incumbent state Rep. Bruce Antone of Ocoee, who also is unopposed. In House District 48, Democratic incumbent state Rep. Amy Mercado, also unopposed, reported raising $3,500 in October, all from unions and corporations. She finished the month with $23,843 total raised, and about $16,000 in the bank.

In House District 49 Democratic incumbent state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith now has an opponent, Jose “Pepito” Aponte, an Orlando Republican. Smith raised $5,300 in October, with $3,000 of that coming from PACs and unions. He finished the month with about $5,800 in the bank. Aponte has not yet reported any campaign finance activity.

In House District 50, Republican incumbent state Rep. Rene Plasencia, now unopposed since his former opponent dropped out last month, collected $5,500 in October, all from PACs and corporations, giving him $76,200 raised so far, and more than $50,000 in the bank.

In HD 51, Sirois’s big October puts him solidly ahead of two Republican primary candidates who had mostly kept up with him in the money chase until recently. Sirois now has raised $56,650 and finished October with about $39,000 in the bank. Republican Thomas O’Neill of Rockledge raised no money in October and finished the moth with about $5,800. Republican Jeffrey Ramsey of Merritt Island raised $500 in October, leaving him with about $17,400 in the bank.

In House District 52, Republican incumbent state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic reported raising $4,500 in the month, most of it from PACs and lobbyists, giving him about $12,400 in the bank. Republican Matt Nye of Melbourne reported raising $550, giving him $508 in the bank.

With Matt Matin entry, three Democrats now vying for HD 44

Democrats are now lining up to run in Florida House District 44, a district that, for more than a decade, begged for Democratic candidates.

Real estate agent and former urban planner Matt Matin of Winter Garden filed in late October to run there, and businessman Eddy Dominguez of Dr. Phillips said Thursday he has sent in his paperwork to run, both joining Dawn Marie Antonis, who filed in August.

The trio are seeking a chance to take on newly-sworn-in state Rep. Bobby Olszewski, who won a brutal Republican primary in August and then beat Dominguez in a special election in October to fill what had been a seat vacated last spring by former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who left for a judicial appointment.

Republicans have owned the seat for decades. This year’s special election was the first time the Democrats have even fielded a candidate since 2010 and this year’s effort didn’t go so well for Democrats until the very end.

Paul Chandler became the Democratic nominee by default when no one with any significant experience stepped forward, and Chandler feuded with the party, alleging it wasn’t supporting him. He was then struck by a lawsuit challenging his qualification to be on the ballot in the first place. He quit, yet formally dropped off the ballot so late that the Democrats didn’t have time to get a new name on the ballot. Dominguez was recruited for a three-week campaign running under Chandler’s name.

But then something unexpected happened on election night, Oct. 10. Dominguez gave Olszewski a bit of a run. Olszewski won with 56 percent of the vote to Dominguez’s 44 percent, the closest contest that district [and its predecessor district in that area, numbered HD 41] has seen in the entire 21st century.

Olszewski will be back next year. The former Winter Garden Commissioner and longtime community volunteer filed for re-election the day after winning the special election. He’s a strong campaigner with close ties to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and he’ll have a full session under his belt.

But now Democrats see in HD 44 something they apparently haven’t seen before, something to fight for.

Antonis filed for the 2018 race even before the Oct. 10 special election, and said this week she’s still in it, intending to win.

Dominguez pledged a rematch right away after losing on Oct. 10, but didn’t file right away. “I had filled them out, and they’re in the mail,” he said of his candidate declaration papers. “It should be a matter of time.”

And now Matin has stepped in. A lifelong resident of western Orange County and a member of the Winter Garden Planning and Zoning Board, Matin said he became disillusioned with what happened in the special election. He calls himself an ideas guy with strong concerns about strengthening public education and environmental protection.

“My goal is to be a bridge-builder and work with both sides. My goal is to represent all the constituents of my district, not just those who vote for me,” Matin said. “I think that’s something that’s missing in today’s politics.”

 

Gwen Graham announces backings of three South Florida mayors

Ninety minutes before Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine planned to announce his big plans, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is sending a message that she, too, has South Florida support, announcing endorsements from three other South Florida mayors.

Graham’s campaign announced Wednesday morning she has the backing of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, Coral Springs Mayor Skip Campbell and Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis.

Levine is expected to announce his Democratic candidacy for governor at a 10:30 a.m. press conference in Miami.

“After 20 years of Republican dominance in Tallahassee, too many Florida families are struggling to find good paying jobs, to make ends meet, to stay in their homes,” Muoio stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign. “Gwen Graham understands the challenges Floridians face and has bold ideas to put our state on a progressive path forward. Gwen has a proven record of standing up for middle-class and working families. As governor, she’ll fight to create jobs, raise wages and build an economy that works for every Floridian.”

A new poll Wednesday morning showed that Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, has a solid lead on other Democrats in seeking the 2018 primary nomination to run for governor, including Levine, should he enter the race. Levine, however, has show strong fundraising abilities long before he’s even announced his intentions. The other Democrats in the race are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

“I’m proud to support Gwen Graham because we need a governor willing to take on the big fights. When Rick Scott tried to cover up a sinkhole, Gwen led the fight to expose it. She’s taking on the oil industry and fighting to protect our beaches and springs from drilling and fracking,” Campbell said. “And, she’s working to hold drug companies accountable for their role in fueling the opioid crisis. I’m proud to support Gwen Graham because we need a governor who will fight for Floridians — not for special interests.”

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis said, “Gwen Graham believes public service is about helping people. In Congress, she made constituent services a top priority and returned more than $2.5 million to Florida veterans, seniors and families. As governor, she’ll bring that same compassion to Tallahassee.

“Gwen is working for Florida’s families — not special interests or corporations.”

New poll finds Democrats’ 6-point advantage in generic governor’s race

Without naming a specific candidate, a new poll finds Democrats have a six-point advantage in the 2018 Florida governor’s race.

Conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design, a Tampa-based firm known for Democratic polling, the poll was taken Aug. 13-17 with live callers, 30 percent cellphones, and bilingual interviewers.

“With big names lining up to run for governor on both sides, we decided to take a more legislative approach to see how the race for governor is setting up by asking which party candidate for governor was the respondent more likely to support,” SEA pollster Thomas Eldon stated in a memo announcing some of the results.

“Despite a conservative midterm model giving Republicans a plus-two turnout advantage (41 percent Republican/39 percent Democrat/20 percent no party affiliation), the results favored the Democrat by six with peak intensity separation also at six.”

The poll found the Democratic strength lays with women and Hispanics, in Central Florida and South Florida; Republicans continue to hold solid advantages among white voters and in the Florida Panhandle.

Democrats also held a five-point advantage over Republicans among independents. However, independent voters were much less likely than partisans to make a pick. Almost 45 percent did not choose a party candidate, Eldon noted.

Women voters gave the generic Democratic gubernatorial candidate a 15-point advantage over the Republican, and among working women, the lead rose to 19 points. Hispanic voters gave a Democratic choice a 16-point advantage.

“With Democrats holding a significant margin among Hispanics, Hispanic turnout in 2018 is pivotal to secure a clear path to victory,” Eldon wrote.

The poll was released through Christian Ulvert‘s Edge Communications, which is working with  Philip Levine, the Miami Beach Mayor who is posturing as a Democratic candidate for governor, though he has neither announced nor filed for candidacy. Without disclosing whom, Ulvert said the poll was commissioned by an individual, but said it was not Levine nor anyone associated with his campaign.

Leading candidates for governor include Democrats Gwen Graham, Chris King, and Andrew Gillum, and Republicans Adam Putnam and Jack Latvala. Democrat John Morgan and Republicans Richard Corcoran and Ron DeSantis also are positioning for possible runs.

Democrats eying possible takeover of Orange County in 2018

Democrats are looking ahead to the 2018 Orange County elections thinking it might be the year they finally take over county government.

The Orange County Board of County Commissioners and the mayor’s office are officially nonpartisan, but the two main parties in Orange County don’t see it that way. So while voters have the chance to vote strictly by the candidate, behind those candidates the Democrats and Republicans are pushing their own, and seeking to hold onto or take control of Orange County’s agenda.

Since the 1990s the Republicans have dominated county government even though Democrats have increasingly dominated the voter registration. Linda Chapin, the last Democratic Orange County chair [now called mayor,] left office in 1998. The Democrats have not had a majority on the Orange County Board of Commissioners since 1994.

Currently Republicans hold the mayor’s office [Teresa Jacobs] and four of the six county commission districts. This time last year they held five of the six commissioner seats, or six of seven votes including the mayor’s vote.

Next year, Democrats are projecting they would take the mayor’s office and wind up with four, maybe five, of the six seats on the board of commissioners.

“That is the plan,” said Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge.

“Too soon to tell…. I think we’ll be OK, actually,” said his counterpart, Orange County Republican Chair Lew Oliver.

The Democrats have 43 percent of Orange County’s voters, and Republicans just 27 percent, with another 31 percent of voters registering as either independents or minor parties. The Democrats advantage has been steadily widening for years.

The Democrats’ prospects in 2018 are led by their candidate for mayor, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who’s got a high name recognition, three county-wide election victories, and strong community support, and who is expecting some crossover support from the business community.

The Republicans have three strong candidates in Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, and businessman Rob Panepinto, president of Orlando Inc., the greater Orlando chamber of commerce.

Yet in a nonpartisan primary next August, it’s likely Demings will emerge to face one of the Republicans in a runoff election in November — in a county which Democrats now hold a 16-point lead over Republicans in voter registration. The Democrats intend to milk that advantage.

“I have no issue with using our resources to let the voters know who our candidates are,” Hodge said.

Orange County Commissioner Victoria Siplin, one of only two Democrats on the board, is seeking re-election and does not have an opponent yet. It’s a safe district for the Democrats, with a big majority overall in voter registration. Sixty-three percent of all District 2 voters are registered Democrats. Just 10 percent are Republicans.

Right now the Democrats also like their chances to flip Orange County District 4, currently held by term-limited Republican Jennifer Thompson. Three Democrats are vying, Kevin Ballinger, Maribel Gomez Cordero and Nicolette Springer, in a district in which Democrats now have a 16-point advantage in voter registration. Lawyer Gina Perez-Calhoun is running for the Republicans.

With Clarke’s entry into the mayor’s race, that could open up District 3 for a special election next year, provided he doesn’t change his mind by next June. Last week, Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Chair Eric Rollings, a well-known official expected to get strong party backing, entered the Democratic race.

Democrats have a 15-point advantage in District 3.

Republicans appear to have at least a momentum advantage in keeping the District 2 seat that will be vacated by Bryan Nelson, who is running for mayor of Apopka instead of for re-election. His predecessor, Fred Brummer; Brummer’s former campaign manager, Christine Moore; and Apopka greenhouse grower Mark Byrd all are Republican candidates with established campaigns or campaign experience, and Brummer and Byrd are off to strong starts raising money. Moore just got in.

Democrat Patricia Rumph‘s campaign has not raised much in ten months. Yet she reportedly has been building a ground game. And Democrats actually have a 17-point advantage in voter registration in District 2, thanks to inclusion of much of the Pine Hills neighborhood, a largely African-American community. So Hodge and other Democrats are in no way conceding the district.

But there is a lot left to happen, Republican Chair Oliver said. And there is a reason Republicans have held control for 20-plus years: Orange County voters apparently feel comfortable with what Republicans have done.

“We’ve got a bunch of good candidates either in the wings, or in play,” Oliver said.

At least two prominent Republicans have been mentioned in political circles for Clarke’s District 3 seat, including former Orange County Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez and real estate agent Dean Asher, though each has told people he’s not interested at this time. They both have until next June to decide.

The District 2 race could change depending on what happens in the Apopka election in March 2018. Should Nelson lose, he could still file to run for re-election, though he has said he would not do so. Should Democratic Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer lose his re-election bid, he’s been mentioned as a possible Orange County Commission District 2 candidate.

There also is the potential impact of the ongoing migration of people from Puerto Rico, greatly accelerated by a flow of evacuees from the island since Hurricane Maria devastated it. So far, Puerto Ricans have largely registered as either Democrats or independents, not Republicans. The Puerto Rican migration was widely credited for flipping neighboring Osceola County to Democratic control three years ago.

How to counter Donald Trump? Democrats still searching

Nine months into the Donald Trump era, Democrats are still searching for a standard-bearer and a crisp message to corral widespread opposition to an unpopular president and a Republican-led Congress.

The minority party has put that struggle on vivid display this week in Nevada, site of Democrats’ first national party gathering since a contentious chairman’s election in February. The party’s congressional leaders and potential presidential candidates mostly stayed away, with the exception of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose name has surfaced among possible 2020 hopefuls.

The activists and party leaders who did attend expressed optimism over their rebuilding efforts, but also lingering resentments from the 2016 presidential primary, confirming that the battle between liberals and establishment Democrats continues long after Hillary Clinton dispatched Bernie Sanders but lost to Trump.

The months since the election have brought plenty of frank public assessments about how far the Democratic National Committee has to go to catch up to Republicans on fundraising and technology — twin pillars of how a national party helps its candidates win elections across the country.

The lingering debate was enough for party Chairman Tom Perez, still putting his stamp on the party, to warn that the discord distracts from laying the groundwork for the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential contest.

“This is a Rome-is-burning moment,” he said Friday, his summation of Trump’s presidency so far. “We may be playing different instruments, but we are all in the same orchestra. We need more people in that orchestra.”

Democrats need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats next November to reclaim the House. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 Senate advantage, but Democrats must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won. In statehouses, Democrats have just 15 governors, and Republicans control about two-thirds of legislatures.

Democrats hope to hold the Virginia governorship and pick up New Jersey’s next month. The party is tantalized by an Alabama Senate race pitting the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, against former jurist Roy Moore, a controversial figure who wasn’t the GOP establishment’s first choice.

Perez is selling confidence. “We’ve got game,” he roared to an exuberant audience at one reception.

Behind that hope, there are plenty of reasons for caution, mostly rooted in an uncomfortable reality: No Democrat has emerged as a leader and top rival to Trump in 2020, with a line-up of previous candidates like Joe Biden and Sanders and little-known House and Senate lawmakers.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Perez’s deputy who hails from the party’s left flank, pushed back against any notion that the Democrats don’t have a clear leader.

“We are not a leaderless party. We are a leader-full party. We have Tom Perez. We have Keith Ellison. We have Leader Pelosi. We have Leader Schumer,” he said.

Still, that reliance on Capitol Hill means the party is touting a leadership core much older than the electorate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77. Sanders is 76. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 66. Other national figures, Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are in the same generation.

“You will see a new generation out there — good messengers with the right message,” said Henry Munoz, the party’s finance chairman, though he declined to speculate about individual names.

A prominent DNC member who backed Clinton in 2016 tried to convince Democrats on Friday to call on Sanders to join the party. “The first word in DNC is ’Democratic,’” quipped Bob Mulholland. But the party’s Resolution Committee, led by Sanders backer James Zobgy, jettisoned the idea. Zogby said taking a shot at Sanders would “feed a Twitter debate that will not be helpful in bringing together” voters on the left.

Trump’s approval ratings are mired in the 30s, levels that history says should spell scores of lost Republican House seats next year. Yet Trump has never had consistent majority public support. Democrats also face an uphill path because Republican state lawmakers drew a majority of congressional districts to the GOP’s advantage.

Trump’s election has sparked an outpouring of volunteer energy and cash on the political left, but the money hasn’t flowed to the national party. Munoz, who helped former President Barack Obama haul in record-setting sums, says the DNC has taken in $51.5 million this year, compared with $93.3 million for Republicans.

Party treasurer Bill Derrough acknowledged that he’s found frustrated Democratic boosters asking about “a damaged brand, what are we doing, what do we stand for.”

The party’s “Better Deal” rollout earlier this year — a package of proposals intended to serve as the economic message to counter Trump’s populist nationalism — hasn’t been an obvious feature at Democrats’ national meeting at all.

Perez is seeking to inject younger blood into the party leadership structure with his 75 at-large appointments to the DNC. But his appointments meant ousting some older DNC members, including Babs Siperstein. The New York at-large member whom Perez did not reappoint warned her fellow Democrats not to underestimate the fellow New Yorker in the White House — Trump.

“He may be weird. He may be narcissistic. But he’s not stupid,” Siperstein said. “He’s smart enough to get elected. He’s smart enough to get away with everything. … So we have to stay united.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Though decrying gridlock, David Jolly would like to see Democrats stop Donald Trump

Republican former U.S. Rep. David Jolly doubled down Tuesday evening on his expressed wish that Democrats win the 2018 mid-term elections as a check on President Donald Trump, saying he hoped that so that “we may be safer as a nation.”

Jolly appeared Wednesday evening at the University of Central Florida in Orlando with Democratic former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy on their college-campus tour to talk about their concerns about how hyper-partisanship has caused gridlock, and forced both parties to kowtow to extremes within their ranks.

Yet Jolly, the St. Petersburg politician who served two terms and then chose to run an eventually-aborted campaign for the U.S. Senate Republican nomination last year instead of for re-election, expressed great frustration Monday night on MSNBC with his party’s unwillingness to stand up to Trump.

After the UCF forum Tuesday evening, he repeated that contention and his desire to see Democrats take over the U.S. House of Representatives for the last two years of Trump’s term. He told FloridaPolitics.com that he views Trump as unsteady and a national security concern, and is worried that his party cannot check him.

“I’ve struggled with it as we continue to hear stories around the national security implications around the president’s irascibility and volatility,” Jolly said. “Certainly we know some of the Constitutional issues that have been raised from ethics to Russia. We also know that he is an unsteady hand as commander in chief.

“And we’ve seen Republicans largely unwilling to stand up to him,” Jolly continued. “Listen, I’m a Republican, who hopes we see a Republican Congress pass Republican policies. But it may be for the greater good that there is a stronger check on Capitol Hill on this president than the Republicans are currently providing. So if it meant Democrats take control of the House for two years, and the president not being in office come January 2021, then we may be safer as a nation in my opinion.

“This may be bigger than the party,” Jolly concluded.

The matter did not come up during the 75-minute forum, in which Murphy and Jolly expressed their concerns about how gerrymandering had created too many safe seats, and how the party leadership in Congress was valuing power over any bipartisan relationships, discouraging members in any contested seats from building relationships with those across the aisle.

Murphy said gerrymandering was the biggest single problem. Yet he also decried the closed-primary system in Florida and other states that use it, noting that voter turnout in a primary average is 15 percent. That 15 percent, he argued, likely represents the most extreme wing of the party; and becomes the deciding force in any district predetermined to be a safe seat for one party or the other. And he contended 90 percent of seats are so predetermined.

“So imagine you’re a member of Congress. Imagine your a candidate. Are you going to appeal to that 85 percent [who don’t vote in the primary] or that 15 percent? Murphy said. “You’re going to tailor a message to them. You’re going to make sure they see ads.And you’re going to get to office. And then you’re going to say the same thing, even if it’s against your own self interest.

“We both know friends on both sides of the aisle that are standing for things they don’t truly believe in,” Murphy said.

Both Murphy and Jolly talked about how leaderships punish members who work across the aisle. Murphy said it starts from the very first week a freshman member of Congress arrives, and is segregated from freshmen from the other party, and then is told to not get chummy with those in the other party, because the goal is to see them defeated in the next election. Murphy and Jolly said both sides do it, threatening to not provide re-election money, or threatening to take away valuable committee seats.

“We can’t can’t take human nature out of this,” Jolly said. “It requires a certain amount of political courage to step forward to say I’m going to be one of those people who decide to change it.”

Lauren Baer raises $250K, Pam Keith $150K for CD 18 primary

Democratic congressional challenger Lauren Baer raised more than $250,000 and her Democratic rival Pam Keith raised $150,000 in the third quarter of 2017 for their battle to decide who might take on Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

Yet combined the two Democrats did not raise as much during the quarter as Mast, who pulled in more than $411,000 in July, August and September.

The pair of Democrats, Bauer, a former senior U.S. State Department under President Barack Obama, and Keith, a labor lawyer who was an insurgent U.S. Senate candidate last year who surprised many with double-digit support in the three-way primary, are focusing on a Treasure Coast district that’s likely to be an intense battleground next year.

Mast has raised more than $1.5 million overall toward his re-election. His campaign also spent $294,000 during the quarter, giving him an early start on creating a campaign foundation for next year. That left him with $921,000 cash-on-hand on Oct. 1

He also already is drawing national support form outside groups. Those outside groups, for both parties, likely are to weigh in heavily next year in a district that Mast flipped, which the Democrats already are targeting as one they think they can win back.

Baer, did not enter the race until August 1, yet raised $250,156 from individuals, plus another $1,514 she contributed herself. That left her with more than $236,000 in the bank on Oct. 1.

Keith reported raising $150,000, which included $60,000 from herself, $85,000 from individuals, and $5,000 in political action committee money. Her campaign reported 800 individual donations from more than 400 individual donors, averaging just over $100 per contribution.

“While it is true that the hurricanes temporarily delayed fundraising efforts, I am in awe of how my supporters rallied to provide a strong close to the quarter. I am not now, nor will I ever be beholden to the moneyed donor class. This is truly a grassroots effort and we are just getting started. “ Keith stated in a news release. “What we’ve accomplished is truly remarkable and it shows that you don’t have to come from money, you don’t have to be a billionaire, and you don’t have to be famous to have people recognize that you are the real deal.”

 

Steve Schale: Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico and Florida politics

Since Maria, the question I’ve gotten more than any other is: “So if X number of Puerto Ricans move to Florida because of the hurricane, what does this mean?”

Honestly, I write this blog with some hesitation.

As I work on this piece, 80-90 percent of the population still lacks power and some 50 percent lack potable water, so politics is really the last thing anyone should be worried about. But given the likely ongoing interest in this question, and in part, because I use this medium to share my own research, I wanted to offer some thoughts.

Both POLITICO’s Marc Caputo (here) and The Washington Post’s James Hohmann (here) have written interesting pieces on the subject, but I wanted to try to give it more data context. So, in this blog, I’ll try to provide my thoughts based on analyzing census data, voter registration data, and presidential election trends.

For my Democratic friends, a word of warning about the latter — particularly regarding 2018, recent turnout in off-year cycles in Orange and Osceola County has been quite low. Comparing the 2012 and 2014 elections, Osceola saw turnout drop from 67 percent to 41.3 percent, the third largest drop-off in Florida, and Orange fell from 68.1 percent to 43.3 percent, the sixth highest drop-off. So, if you want to take advantage of anything I will write about from this point onward, don’t stop organizing.

One other word of warning, this blog only looks at the impacts in three counties: Orange, Osceola and Seminole, because the acute impact of Puerto Rican growth is likely to be most significantly felt here. However, as we saw in 2016, the political impacts of Puerto Ricans in these three counties were outweighed by the Trump surge among whites in the outlying Orlando media-market counties. Alex Leary at the Tampa Bay Times just wrote an excellent piece on this dynamic.

One last note: I wrote a piece called “Orlando Rising” about the demographic changes that were occurring in the region then if you are curious for comparison purposes.

So, here goes …

Like so many things, the answer to the Maria question lies in history.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s start the clock in 2000. The 2000 election was by far the closest in our state’s history, and thus provides a good, balanced starting point when looking at elections. We also have census data from 2000 to provide another benchmark.

In terms of voter registration, we can’t really analyze data before 2006, since most counties in Florida grouped “Hispanics” into their race: either Black or White. One quick note, as I do in all my pieces, I will use Black, not African-American, because Florida also has a large Caribbean-American population that gets categorized into the same data.

So, let’s start with census data.

Keep one thing in mind, the 2015 data are based on census projections based on their year-round survey work. While they are still fairly accurate, we won’t see exact numbers until sometime in 2021 when the 2020 census data are released.

So, with that caveat …

In 2000, the Orlando urban counties had 1,434,033 total residents. Of this population, 18.1 percent was Hispanic, and another 14.7 percent was Black. The area’s non-Hispanic White population was just over 62 percent.

So, let’s move ahead to 2015.

Population in the tri-county area had grown to 1,967.255, with Hispanics now making up 29.6 percent of the population, with Black residents also increasing, to 16.3 percent. Non-Hispanic Whites had dropped to 47 percent of the area’s population.

In fairness, the 2000 census had fewer categories of people, so that 62 percent number is probably high, but regardless, that is a significant change.

Looking at it another way, between 2000 and 2015, the area grew by 532,222 residents, of which roughly 325,000 are Hispanic, with the total Hispanic population growing from just under 260,000 to almost 585,000.

Often overlooked in the region, the area’s Black population also grew substantially, from 210,000 to 320,000. At the same time, the area’s non-Hispanic White population grew by just 32,000 — which is actually less than the Asian population, which grew by 45,000 over the same period. Again, it is important to note the non-Hispanic White count was likely artificially high in 2000.

But any way you look at it, the Hispanic population exploded, and the entire area got much more diverse.

So, what does that mean for the politics?

Let’s start with voter registration. I want to start with a caveat from census data: Hispanic is a self-reported data point on voter registration cards, and it typically underrepresents the real number, as some Hispanics will only self-report as White or Black. The census data above collects all Hispanics, regardless of their race. This is one reason why if you look at public polling or exit polling, the Hispanic share is often higher than the state’s voter registration numbers, especially in presidential years.

So, going back to 2006, at the time the book closed on the 2006 General Election, there were just over 941,000 registered voters in the area, of which 17.5 percent, or 165,000 were Hispanic. Another 12.3 percent were Black, with non-Hispanic Whites making up 62 percent, roughly the same as the census proportions.

Two other data points: In 2006, Hispanics broke 43 percent Dem — 21 percent R, and 36 percent NPA, while non-Hispanic Whites broke 48 percent Rep, 30 percent Dem and 22 percent NPA — which may seem high, but isn’t for this part of the state, given the region’s GOP tradition.

Fast forward to the 2016 book closing. There are now 1,264,778 voters in the area, and Hispanics have grown from 165,008 to 312,323 voters, which equates to 24.7 percent of the electorate. Black voters are up to 14.2 percent, and non-Hispanic white is down to 51.2 percent, a number that I believe, even before any possible Hurricane Maria impact, will be below 50 percent in 2020.

Those other comparative data points from 2006: Hispanics are now 54 percent Dem, 14 percent Rep and 32 percent NPA. In fact, among Whites and Blacks, both political parties lost share of registrants to NPA (non-Hispanic White is now 46R-27D-27NPA). In fact, the only place where partisans increased their share of the electorate was Democrats with Hispanics.

Look at it another way, and the dynamic is even more remarkable. Since 2006, the area’s voter registration grew by about 323,000 voters. Of that, 45 percent was Hispanic, while 21 percent was non-Hispanic White, and about 19 percent of the growth was among Black voters. The raw numbers are even starker: Hispanic Democrats in the decade leading up to 2016 grew by 99,000 voters, while Republicans growth was just under 9,000.

So how did that play out in elections?

In 2000, in the Orlando metro area (again, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties): George W. Bush beat Al Gore by just under 9,000 votes — a margin he actually grew to 33,000 votes in 2004. When you think about the urban Central Florida core today, it is hard to think that just 12 years ago, Republican presidential candidates actually won the region. Again, this was a pretty Republican area prior to the recent demographic shifts.

But not anymore. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won those same three counties by over 165,000 votes. In fact, in just Orange County (Orlando proper), where John Kerry beat George Bush by 1,000 votes in 2004, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 134.000 votes just 12 years later.

Another way of looking at it, the two-party candidate margin shifted almost nearly 175,000 from Bush 2000 (almost 200K from 2004). And this wasn’t just the “Obama coalition” or “Obama turnout” — Clinton’s 2016 margin was about 65,000 votes larger than either Obama election. In a word, this is demographics.

Another metric: In 2000, Democrats had no locally elected Members of Congress. A Democratic seat from Jacksonville meandered down to Orlando, but that was it. In 2016, the region has three local Democratic Members of Congress, which reflect the growing diversity of the area: a Puerto-Rican, an African-American and a Vietnamese American.

So let’s talk Hurricane Maria.

First, it is important to keep in mind just how much has changed in the last 15 years in these three counties for Puerto Ricans. In 2000, the community was emerging, as was the community’s social and political infrastructure. I used to say to reporters in those days who were writing about the early Puerto Rican political dynamic, one of the big differences between Miami and Orlando is you could figure out who the opinion leaders were in Miami, but it wasn’t as easy in those days in Orlando.

Today is quite different. Puerto Ricans who come to Orlando now will find a ready-made community, with a social structure solidly in place, a growing job market, and in many cases, friends and family already here. In other words, while moving is never easy, migrating to Orlando following Maria will be a far easier adjustment than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

And far more than a Hispanic immigrant, the Puerto Rican impact on the politics is acute. As long as a Puerto Rican migrates and takes up residence in Florida more than 30 days before a given election, they can vote. As we’ve seen since 2000, the immediate impact in these three counties has been to the significant benefit of Democrats.

So, what does it all potentially mean?

There is no way to know how many people could migrate to Central Florida. Pretty much every estimate out there is a dart thrown against a wall.

But we do know this. Over the last 10 years, 67 percent of the Hispanic voter registration growth accrued to the Democrats, while only 6 percent went to the GOP, so any growth from Maria, which is over and above the growth which is already happening in Orlando, will only exacerbate the local political trends.

Let me close with one note of caution: Florida is a big complicated state, and there is not, nor will there ever be, a single silver bullet that “turns” Florida one way or another. Florida is five or six really big states in one. The North Florida media markets alone are the voting power of Iowa, and just Miami-Dade County has roughly the same voting power as Nevada.

Despite Florida’s razor close margins — with only 18,000 votes separating Republicans and Democrats out of the 50,000,000 ballots cast for President since 1992, and with the last two presidentials and two governor’s races each being decided by a point, Florida is historically close because of the sum of these diverse parts, not because of any one thing in any one spot. You win Florida by managing the margins. So, while these trends help the Democratic balance sheet, a win in 2018 and 2020 also means reducing the Trump and Scott margins in other counties.

To the latter point, Florida also has this interesting ability to find equilibrium — when it looked like the high migration to Florida from around the mainland would shift Florida forever into the GOP column in the early 2000s, large Hispanic and Caribbean growth balanced it out. Of late, the demographic gains that Democrats have made have been balanced out with increasing support among Whites for Republican candidates. And I expect this balance to continue going forward, at least through the next few presidential cycles. With that being said, I do think over time, Republicans will reach a ceiling with Whites (and Trump could well be the ceiling), meaning if the GOP can’t find a way to improve its vote share with Hispanic voters, their math will get harder and harder. But Democrats, remember, none of that is a sure thing.

So while a significant migration from Maria will absolutely impact Central Florida politics, and those impacts will help Democrats statewide — it won’t “tip” the state any more than any other population shift that could occur, because well, Florida is gonna Florida.

In a world where the Jaguars crush the Steelers, and lead their division after 5 games, literally anything can happen!

May God Bless our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.

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